In the moment, it looked like young Celtics forward Jayson Tatum suffered the worst.
With time running out in an overtime win Tuesday morning over Turkey in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Tatum turned his left ankle the wrong way after delivering a pass to his Team USA teammate Khris Middleton.
Tatum had to be helped off the floor by two people and could not put weight on his left leg.
Here’s Jayson Tatum’s ankle injury at the end of Team USA’s win over Turkey. pic.twitter.com/IrUadQz1DE
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) September 3, 2019
All of Boston held it’s breath as the 21-year-old Tatum hobbled off the floor. The entire city could breathe again with one tweet. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Tatum suffered a sprained left ankle and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Official update on Jayson Tatum: sprained left ankle, will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) September 3, 2019
While Tatum likely escaped the worst outcome, watching him go down was another reminder why so many NBA stars opted not to play in the World Cup. Kings budding point guard De’Aaron Fox surely feels bad for Tatum, but good about his own decision to leave the squad before the tournament began.
The same can be said for Kings big man Marvin Bagley. Both young players had a chance to showcase why Sacramento could be on the rise and compete for a playoff spot as they represented their country. Instead, they decided to drop out on their own terms.
Neither Fox nor Bagley gave specific reasons for leaving Team USA, but health had to be at the top of their lists. Both players originally signed up for a week of training camp with the Select Team before earning a spot on the senior squad with a chance to make the final roster. Playing for Team USA is a huge commitment, one that nearly lasts up to training camp.
If Team USA makes it to the gold medal game on Sept. 15, the duo would have had fewer than two weeks to prepare for training camp. The Kings also open their preseason slate with two games in India at the start of October, making their travel schedule that much more difficult.
The highest-profile name on Team USA this year is Celtics point guard Kemba Walker, and he isn’t even a top 10 player in the NBA. Risking injury for a gold medal has become too high of a price to play for stars, and now young players are even following their lead.
Fox and Bagley received backlash for quitting the team and giving up an opportunity to grow their game. Isn’t ending the Kings’ 13-year playoff drought more important, though?
The simple answer is yes.
Tatum reportedly didn’t have much of a limp after the game and the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn reported that Tatum texted Celtics coach Brad Stevens to let him know the injury isn’t serious. But these things can linger. Just ask Steph Curry.
After years of looking like Curry’s career would be more potential than production, he finally had sustained health and turned into an all-time great. Before that, though, the Warriors’ star point guard dealt with countless ankle injuries. And Golden State fans still squirm every time Steph lands awkwardly or turns the wrong way.
Sacramento has a plethora of players competing in the World Cup this year and its front office has to be nervous for even the slightest of injuries. Fox and Bagley are the Kings’ two shiniest prizes in a collection of young stars on the rise, and deep down, the Kings have to be happy they’re nowhere near the World Cup right now.
No matter how great the honor of wearing USA across your chest might be, the risk, unfortunately, outweighs the reward.